Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist


William Rehnquist

Chief Justice William Rehnquist at a University of Arizona Law College Association event

William Hubbs Rehnquist was born Oct. 1, 1924, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the son of William Benjamin Rehnquist and Margery Peck Rehnquist. He attended public elementary and high schools in Shorewood, Wisconsin, a suburb of Milwaukee. From 1943 to 1946 he served in the United States Army Air Forces and was discharged with the rank of sergeant. He received a B. A. and an M. A. from Stanford University, graduating Phi Beta Kappa, in 1948. He received an M. A. from Harvard University in 1950. In 1952, he received an LL. B. from Stanford University.

After graduating from Stanford, Rehnquist served as a law clerk to Associate Justice Robert H. Jackson of the Supreme Court of the United States, from February 1952 to June 1953. Following his clerkship, he entered the private practice of law in Phoenix, Arizona, where he practiced from 1953 to 1969, with primary emphasis on civil litigation. In January 1969, President Richard M. Nixon appointed Rehnquist Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legal Counsel in the U.S. Department of Justice.

On Oct. 21, 1971, President Nixon nominated him Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, to replace Associate Justice John Marshall Harlan. He was confirmed by the Senate on Dec. 10, 1971, and was sworn in on Jan. 7, 1972. President Ronald Reagan nominated him Chief Justice of the United States on June 20, 1986, to replace Chief Justice Warren E. Burger. He was confirmed by the Senate on Sept. 17, 1986, and sworn in on Sept. 26, 1986.

Rehnquist was the author of four books: "The Supreme Court: How It Was, How It Is" (William Morrow, 1987); "Grand Inquests" (William Morrow, 1992); "All the Laws But One" (Alfred A. Knopf, 1998); and "Centennial Crisis: The Disputed Election of 1876" (Alfred A. Knopf, 2004).

He was married to Natalie Cornell of San Diego, California, who died Oct. 17, 1991. They had three children: James, born 1955; Janet, born 1957; and Nancy, born 1959. Chief Justice Rehnquist died on Sept. 3, 2005, at his home in Arlington, Virginia.

Supreme Court Service

William Rehnquist being sworn in as a United States Supreme Court justice

Photograph by The White House, Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States

William H. Rehnquist served as the 16th Chief Justice of the United States, the 89th Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, and the 100th Member of the Court. He was sworn in as an Associate Justice on Jan. 7, 1972 and as Chief Justice on Sept. 26, 1986. He served for 33 years and eight months on the Supreme Court, and as Chief Justice for 18 years and 11 months.

Rehnquist served with 16 other Justices during his tenure on the Court: Chief Justice Warren E. Burger; Justice William O. Douglas; Justice William J. Brennan, Jr.; Justice Potter Stewart; Justice Byron R. White; Justice Thurgood Marshall; Justice Harry A. Blackmun; Justice Lewis F. Powell, Jr.; Justice John Paul Stevens; Justice Sandra Day O’Connor; Justice Antonin Scalia; Justice Anthony M. Kennedy; Justice David H. Souter; Justice Clarence Thomas; Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg; and Justice Stephen Breyer.

He ranks fourth among the longest serving Chief Justices: (1) John Marshall (34 years, 5 months); (2) Roger Brooke Taney (28 years, 6 months); (3) Melville Fuller (21 years, 8 months); (4) William H. Rehnquist (18 years and 11 months).

Rehnquist served as a law clerk for Associate Justice Robert H. Jackson during the 1951 and 1952 terms, from Jan. 26, 1952 through July 18, 1953. From 1972 through 2005, 105 law clerks served the Chief Justice.

Rehnquist wrote 458 Opinions of the Court and Announcing Judgment; 376 dissenting opinions; 96 concurrences; 33 opinions concurring in part and dissenting in part; 37 statements and separate opinions; and 110 in Chambers opinions.


Browse the following U.S. Supreme Court opinions by Chief Justice Rehnquist:

  • Majority opinions
  • Dissenting opinions
  • Concurring opinions
  • Opinions concurring in part, dissenting in part
  • Statements and separate opinions
  • In Chambers opinions

See the full archive of Rehnquist opinions.

Rehnquist at University of Arizona Law

William Rehnquist talks with University of Arizona Law students in the courtyard of the law school

Chief Justice Rehnquist delivered the 1980-81 McCormick Lecture at University of Arizona Law. In spring of 1989, he was the Jeanne Kiewit Taylor Visiting Professor of Law. He returned to teach a class on the U.S. Supreme Court throughout the early 1990s and 2000s.

In 1994, Chief Justice Rehnquist received the University of Arizona's Distinguished Citizen Award.